When Cinnamon Moved Markets

A spice vendor in Yemeni

A Yemeni spice vendor. Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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On today's Planet Money:

Tom Standage, business editor at the Economist, says if you really want to understand the history of global trade, you need to know why a pharaoh would want to be entombed with peppercorns in his nose.

In his book, An Edible History of Humanity, Standage writes about how spices were an early form of currency and some, like peppercorns, signified great wealth. Arab middlemen controlled the spice trade, and their monopoly allowed them to inflate the prices of cinnamon and pepper for years. Standage says it wasn't until an Indian ship went adrift in the Red Sea that the Europeans realized there was an easier route to get all those spices they had been craving.

After the jump, see a map of ancient trade routes between Alexandria and western India.

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A map showing ancient trade routes between Alexandria and western India

Click to enlarge. Spice trade routes between Alexandria and western India Tom Standage/An Edible History of Humanity hide caption

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BONUS LISTENING: In Dark Ages, Seeds Of A Modern Economy



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